1) I feel like my training is a lot of shooting in the dark. I wanted a better sense of the efforts I should be using in my day-to-day workouts.
2) It seemed really cool and I didn't want another "thing" for my birthday. Instead, I got some neat looking spreadsheets (that you can see below -- exciting!).
What I learned: I'm not good enough to be a pro athlete. Once the shock has worn off and you've climbed back in your chair, you can read on to see what the test was like and what the results mean.
The test was basically on a very high-end stationary bike that is adjustable so it could mimic my exact position on my tri bike. After I warmed up for about 25 minutes, Mat, the tester, took a blood sample (by pricking my finger) and then measured my blood lactate for a baseline.
Then, I got all dorked out with a heart rate monitor and a mask that connected to a machine that measured my breathing output (and whatever sort of stuff is measurable when you breathe).
We started the test by ramping up to 110 watts. Every five minutes Mat would take a new blood sample then increase the resistance by 15 watts. To sum up, eventually I couldn't really turn the pedals anymore and there was all sorts of spit and sweat flying.
Here are the expensive graphs/charts:
This one shows what energy sources I'm using as the effort increases. It's good that my fat burning is pretty level the whole way across, although it could stand to be raised significantly.
I'm not exactly sure that this means in science terms, but you can see the lactate go through the roof once I pass 170 watts. In unscientific terms it means I can't go very hard for very long. And "hard" for me is not actually that many watts.
This is what I was most interested in. It gives me all the HR and wattage zones that I was looking for.
I didn't really know how to interpret all of this, so luckily, Alan, Endurance Corner's resident physio wiz, explained it to me. In a nutshell (mostly in Alan's words, pulled from the e-mails he sent me):
-My absolute power output is woeful (that's my observation; Alan was much more polite), but my power to weight ratio is decent. That means I have better potential for success on climbing courses. I have a good tolerance to a wide range of power levels and should look at courses like Placid or Canada for a best relative result. (Well, that works out).
- I have a good base-level of training. In terms of limiters, there's a lot of upside that can come from increasing my FTP (functional threshold power).
- I also need to do more at "steady" -- basically, try to close the gap between the black and gray fields in the second chart.
- More steady-state training will ultimately prove to be the quickest path to improving my short-term IM performance. Extending my FTP will help me out in the long-term.
Straight from Alan's e-mail: "In summary, you're quite 'fit' but not as 'fast' as you could be on the basis of your fitness. This is not to say that there is not more room for improvement in your 'fitness' but, IMHO, in the name of balance and getting some return on your investment, some of your basic week should be devoted to higher intensity training."
Now, everything's relative. I clearly have a lot more "fitness" I can attain. That's evidenced by the fact that I couldn't get past 215 watts (for contrast, there are a lot of people that race ironman at an average 215 watts).
So, the short answer that came out of the test for me: I need to be working harder (actual "hard" efforts or "steady." No more noodling around). There's more in the results, but it gets a lot less compelling for anyone that isn't me.
Was it worth it for me? Absolutely. I'd even consider going back a year from now to see if anything has changed.